DIRECTOR: FRANK DRICK. RUNNING TIME: 92mins. DVD: RED WING. PRICE: £9.99. CERT: 12.
The success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 not only rescued the movie superhero genre from camp gay stereotypes, (until the advent of Batman and Robin, of course), but also kickstarted a cycle of comic book adaptations which continue to this day. In the wake of Batman’s box-office success, Hollywood studios scrambled to option every well-known comic book hero, plus quite a few obscure ones. All of which meant that smaller independent producers hoping to cash in on the superhero boom were forced to look further afield than DC or Marvel for properties. Enter Captain Laser, one of the few British superhero figures to make it to the screen, albeit in this independently made and barely distributed adaptation with aspirations way beyond its budget.
The Captain had apparently started out in the 1940s as a wartime answer to American titles like Batman and Superman, which were largely absent from UK shelves for the duration.. Smudgily printed on low-grade paper, he was portrayed as a fine upstanding fellow espousing middle of the road Imperial English values, (he’d never strike a lady before removing his hat and wouldn’t beat the natives on a Sunday, no matter how revolting they were), who, at an army test range, is hit by an experimental energy beam that gives him super laser powers. He was the main strip in Action Chronicle until the title’s demise in the 1960s, when Michael Moorcock took over the writing and editorial duties, and the whole thing became too spaced out and surreal. The final straw for the publishers came in the shape of a six-month story arc featuring Captain Laser falling into a parallel world where his powers were all drug-induced after acid-tripping with Jerry Cornelius. Not surprisingly, the plug was pulled on the comic part way through the story line.
At least, that’s what the extras on the DVD told me, and frankly, they were the best part of the film. Sadly, it just an ill-considered attempt to cash in on the superhero rage that is so bad it is funny. It is painful that movies like this are still being made in the twenty first century. Really, it is. Anyway, the film presents a revisionist version of the story, updating it to the present (mainly for budgetary reasons, one assumes). Consequently, our hero Captain William Hardy is now part of an elite SAS unit infiltrating the biotech company of a former East German scientist who turns out to be a damn commie dreaming of restoring the old Soviet Union. Just so that you know he’s truly evil, he also has a Nazi obsession, on account of his father having been an SS officer – two forms of favourite low-rent movie shorthand for evil in one package! A laser in the site is used against our hero, before he escapes. Consequently, he finds he has strange powers. It is the discovery of these powers that give actor Joseph Grains a chance to act intense and angst ridden, sadly he just looks constipated. “He has some strange ability to harness the power of light and heat and direct it like a beam…” says one scientist,. Oh, and he can levitate, as can lasers one assumes, not being an expert, although I have never seen one flying in the air.
Needless to say, we also get a superpowered villain who gives himself more and more power by bathing in a laser beam, turning him even madder. This is the sort of role usually played in this type of movie by Rutger Hauer, but this is too low rent even for him. So, instead we get that bloke who played Hitler in Winds of War. Ultimately, the old-fashioned nature of the story is at odds with the revisionist approach, not helped by a miniscule budget which sees cheap strobe lights standing in for lasers. To be honest, they would have been better off adapting the psychedelic sixties version of the strip, with the Captain only displaying his ‘powers’ after puffing on a spliff. Still, if nothing else, the movie does at least tell us important facts about lasers, such as the fact that prolonged exposure to them will turn most normal men insane. So be careful with that laser pen. Glad to be told what the boffins don’t want us to hear.